What is a Hi-Hat? Unraveling the Cymbal’s Secrets in Music Production

Master the art of music production with our deep dive into hi-hats. Learn what a hi-hat is, its role in a drum set, and how to optimize its use in your soundtracks.

Ever wonder how that crisp, defining rhythm in your favorite rock or jazz song is created? Well, chances are, the magic’s woven by an often overlooked yet profoundly influential instrument: the hi-hat. In this post, we’ll explore the fascinating history, versatile applications, and diverse range of sounds that hi-hats bring to the table. So, whether you’re curious about their origins or eager to master your technique, join us on this rhythmic journey as we unravel the magic of the hi-hat!

What is a hi-hat? Well, it’s a set of two cymbals mounted on a stand that you’ll play using a foot pedal or with sticks, brushes, or even your fingers.

What is the role of a hi-hat in a basic drum set?

If we’re gonna chat drums, we’ve got to know our way around a basic set. Think of it like a city, and the hi-hat is that famous landmark everyone wants to see. Alongside it, you’ve got the city’s other hotspots: a bass drum, floor tom, mounted toms, a snare drum, and a couple of more cymbals named crash and ride.

Closeup of a pair of cymbals. Source: unsplash
Closeup of a pair of cymbals. Source: unsplash

Now, in the early 20th century, some wise guy decided one drum just wasn’t enough and invented the drum set. This brilliant invention let drummers play more than one instrument at a time. How cool is that?

You’ll most likely find these drum sets in rock, jazz, and pop music. But don’t be fooled! They’re not exclusive to these genres. You’ll even find them in orchestral pieces, film scores, and musicals.

How does a hi-hat work with other instruments in a groove?

When it comes to playing the drums, we’ve got this thing called a groove. It’s like the heart of the music. And just like your heart’s got different parts doing different things, the groove’s made up of several elements.

Now, every drummer’s got their style, but typically, the hi-hat, bass drum, and snare drum all work together to make the groove. They’re like the Harry, Ron, and Hermione of your drum set – they just work better together. You might find the hi-hat featured on the backbeat or on the second or third beat in a waltz, but there’s no hard and fast rule. It all depends on the music and how creative the drummer feels.

Drummers generally place the hi-hat to their left and play it with their right hand. But remember, we’re in the 21st century, and there’s no room for ‘one size fits all’ in music. Some drummers have even added a second hi-hat to their setup to keep the sound going without cross-sticking.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is a hi-hat? Unraveling the cymbal's secrets in music production | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

How are hi-hat cymbals sold and made?

Hi-hat cymbals are sold in matched sets, kind of like a pair of shoes. They’re usually made of a bronze alloy, often with 80% copper and 20% tin. Sometimes, they’ll even have a bit of silver. These cymbals are available in a variety of diameters, from your standard size to miniature models.

When it comes to hi-hats, size does matter! This table compares different sizes of hi-hats to help you understand what might work best for you. Remember, the perfect hi-hat size depends on your unique music style and needs.

Hi-Hat SizeSound QualitySuitable For
12-13 inchesBright, sharpJazz, Acoustic
14 inchesBalanced, versatileRock, Pop, Fusion
15-16 inchesDark, heavyMetal, Hard rock
Comparison of different hi-hat sizes and their sound qualities

What are the types of hi-hat?

The types of hi-hats in drums can vary in terms of their characteristics, sound, and construction. Here are some common types of hi-hats:

1. Standard hi-hats

The standard hi-hats are the most common type found in drum kits. They consist of two cymbals of similar size, typically ranging from 13″ to 15″ in diameter, mounted on a stand. The bottom cymbal is fixed, while the top cymbal is mounted on a rod and can be pressed against the bottom cymbal using a pedal. This allows drummers to create open and closed sounds by controlling the pressure applied to the pedal.

2. Heavy hi-hats

Heavy hi-hats are designed for drummers who prefer a more pronounced and cutting sound. These hi-hats are usually thicker and heavier than standard hi-hats, which results in a stronger and more defined stick articulation. They are often used in rock and metal genres where a loud and powerful sound is desired.

3. Thin hi-hats

Thin hi-hats offer a lighter and more delicate sound compared to standard hi-hats. They are typically thinner and more responsive, providing a softer and more subtle stick response. Thin hi-hats are commonly used in jazz and lighter musical styles where a more nuanced and controlled sound is preferred.

Bright hi-hats are commonly used in rock, pop, and other genres where a bright and energetic sound is required.

4. Dark hi-hats

Dark hi-hats are known for their warm and rich tone. They produce a lower pitch with a longer sustain and tend to have a more complex sound character. These hi-hats are often used in jazz, fusion, and other genres where a darker and more atmospheric sound is desired.

5. Bright hi-hats

Bright hi-hats offer a crisp and cutting sound with a pronounced high-frequency presence. They have a higher pitch, shorter sustain, and provide excellent clarity and projection. Bright hi-hats are commonly used in rock, pop, and other genres where a bright and energetic sound is required.

6. Effects hi-hats

Effects hi-hats are designed to create unique sounds and textures. They can include features like rivets, sizzles, or jingles attached to the cymbals to produce specific effects when played. Effects hi-hats are often used to add color and character to drumming and are popular in experimental or creative musical contexts.

A man playing drums outdoors. Source: unsplash
A man playing drums outdoors. Source: unsplash

Advantages and disadvantages of hi-hats

Hi-hats are an essential component of a drum kit, consisting of a pair of cymbals mounted on a stand and played with drumsticks or pedals. They add a distinctive sound and versatility to drumming. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of using hi-hats.

Advantages of hi-hats

Hi-hats offer several advantages that enhance the drumming experience:

  • Versatility: Hi-hats allow drummers to produce a wide range of sounds by varying the way they are played. You can create tight, crisp sounds or open, washy tones depending on how much pressure you apply and how you manipulate the foot pedal.
  • Rhythmic Control: Hi-hats provide excellent rhythmic control, allowing drummers to emphasize specific beats and add complexity to their drumming patterns. The ability to open and close the hi-hats dynamically adds a dynamic element to the rhythm.
  • Articulation: With hi-hats, drummers can add articulation and accents to their beats. The controlled sound produced by the hi-hats helps define the rhythmic structure of a song and contributes to the overall groove.
  • Foot Control: The foot pedal used to operate the hi-hats enables drummers to control the opening and closing of the cymbals while simultaneously playing other drums. This foot control provides a high level of coordination and allows for intricate playing techniques.

Disadvantages of hi-hats

While hi-hats offer many benefits, there are a few drawbacks to consider:

  • Sound Limitation: Hi-hats have a distinct sound that may not suit every musical style or personal preference. If you’re looking for a different tonal character, you may need to explore other cymbal options to achieve the desired sound.
  • Portability: Due to their size and the need for a stand, hi-hats can be less portable compared to other drums. If you often need to transport your drum kit, the bulkiness and additional setup required for hi-hats may pose a slight inconvenience.
  • Cost: Hi-hats, like other cymbals, can be relatively expensive, especially if you’re looking for high-quality options. Investing in a good pair of hi-hats can significantly enhance your drumming experience, but it’s important to consider your budget when making a purchase decision.

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions about what a hi-hat is? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions.

How do I maintain my hi-hat cymbals?

Just like any musical instrument, your hi-hats need regular care to ensure they keep sounding great. You can clean them with a soft cloth and cymbal cleaner, but avoid using harsh chemicals that might damage the surface. Also, make sure to store them safely when not in use.

Can I use two different-sized hi-hat cymbals together?

Technically, you could, but it’s not recommended. Hi-hat cymbals are sold in matched sets because they’re designed to complement each other’s sounds. Using two different-sized cymbals might result in an unbalanced sound.

What is the difference between a hi-hat and a crash cymbal?

While they might look similar, hi-hats and crash cymbals are used for different purposes. A hi-hat, as we’ve covered, provides rhythm and can be played in a variety of ways. A crash cymbal, on the other hand, is typically used for accents, creating a loud, sharp sound when struck.


Well, folks, it seems we’ve finally hit the hi-note on our hi-hat adventure! You’ve learned all about these crucial cymbals – from their role in a drum kit to their impact on your groove. Remember, whether you’re rocking out in your garage or recording the next Grammy-winning track, you’re always on the ‘cymbal’ of success with a good hi-hat!

Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and keep on drumming!

Key takeaways

This article covered the ins and outs of hi-hat cymbals. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Hi-hats are essential elements of any drum kit, contributing significantly to the overall groove.
  • These cymbals can be played in two positions: open and closed.
  • Hi-hat cymbals are known for their indeterminate pitch and unpitched percussion.
  • They come in different styles like rock, metal, fusion, and sizzle.
  • Hi-hats are made of a bronze alloy and are available in a variety of sizes.
  • The choice of hi-hat size should be based on your musical style and needs.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

Nick eggert.
Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

Nick is our staff editor and co-founder. He has a passion for writing, editing, and website development. His expertise lies in shaping content with precision and managing digital spaces with a keen eye for detail.

Verified User Black 24dp


Our team conducts thorough evaluations of every article, guaranteeing that all information comes from reliable sources.

Event Available Black 24dp


We diligently maintain our content, regularly updating articles to ensure they reflect the most recent information.

Leave a Comment